On the pros and cons of the variety of options available in go

Here are some common topics that often spark debate between go players:

  • Handicap stones or reverse komi?
  • Japanese rules or Chinese rules?
  • Byo-yomi or Fischer?
  • Fast games or slow games?
  • 9x9 or 19x19?

On some of these, you probably have a strong opinion about which is the superior choice. On others, you may not care about the difference, or enjoy both options equally.

My personal journey for almost all questions of this type has looked something like this over the last 10 years:

  1. Start out with no opinion (either being entirely unaware of the existence of options, or else not having enough understanding or experience to have a preference)
  2. Gradually, over time, form a strong opinion on which is superior
  3. See other players debate the question and be frustrated that some people have the wrong opinion
  4. After having seen the same arguments over and over again, begrudgingly accept that the other side does have some good points
  5. Gradually, over time, deepen understanding of both sides and learn to enjoy both options in practice

This is not to say that there are not sometimes “correct answers” to questions of this type. Under specific circumstances, it may be a clear choice which time control or which ruleset or whatever is better.

And it can be frustrating that there are so many choices. It sucks that whenever a beginner asks a question about scoring or bent-4-in-the-corner we have to qualify our explanations with which ruleset we are assuming. It sucks if you’re in the minority on some particular preference and have a hard time finding like-minded opponents.

But this multitude of options is also something beautiful. If we compare with chess for instance, it has some of these debates, but not nearly as many:

  • There is one fixed board size
  • While there are different rulesets, they make less of a difference in practice (and on the big servers the ruleset is fixed for the entire server, no differing rules from game to game)
  • No widely used handicap system in regular games

And these are all contributing factors to why it’s hard for me to imagine maintaining the passion for chess over time in the same way I have with go.

So when we’re fighting over which type of handicap or which time control is best (which we will certainly continue to do in perpetuity - these discussions are also part of how some of us enjoy go!) it’s good to remind ourselves to be grateful that we have these choices to argue over.

If you’re in a position where you’re sure about your personal preferences and can easily find appropriate games, great!

If, like most of us, you have to switch between different rulesets and time controls depending on the server/tournament, I really recommend learning to appreciate the upsides of each setting.

Although I have my personal favorites, and I would be happy if more people thought like me, I’d rather live in this world we live in than in an alternate universe where my favorite settings are the only ones available. Variety is a wonderful thing, especially when you want to continue enjoying something for many years to come.


For some reason I came in expecting this to be about Go variants.


I tried to keep the list of options “main-stream”, but if I were allowed to dive into my own niches I could easily make it ten times longer :smile:


Great post! I have a few preferences, but have a hard time believing that any particular type of Go is superior, especially among the options you listed.

Variety is the spice of life!


Me too.
“Variety of options” did lead me to think it was about go variants.